A pastor wouldn't stop holding church services — so his landlord changed the locks

horecchio@businessinsider.com (Haven Orecchio-Egresitz)
Closed church pews in California due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Reuters

  • A pastor in Lodi, California, continued to hold church services despite coronavirus concerns and gathering restrictions.
  • After a police warning, the landlord changed the locks to keep the congregation out.
  • A lawyer for the congregation says it intends to sue, alleging the state's lockdown orders violate civil liberties.
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A group of congregants and their pastor in Lodi, California, have openly defied stay-at-home orders to attend church services. And now they're locked out of their church.

On Sunday, a small group of Cross Culture Christian Center worshippers, led by pastor Jon Duncan, showed up to their building and realized the landlord locked them out, the Los Angeles Times reported.

While other churches in the area had gone virtual in an effort to stem the spread of the coronavirus, the pastor had refused to follow California's gathering restrictions. 

"I'm not thrilled in general with the restriction on religious liberties," Jeremy Duncan, the pastor's brother, told local TV station KTVU. "Especially during what is Christian's most holy week." 

Earlier in April, when the church started facing a backlash, Jon Duncan said he had no plans to stop services. He also has said that the church has instituted social distancing policies and that he has encouraged those who are sick to stay home — even though a significant number of people who contract the virus do not show symptoms.

"We're going to meet as often as we can meet, and we do believe that this right is protected by the First Amendment and should be considered essential," Duncan told Fox 40 at the time.

Duncan had flouted warnings from officials to shut down the services. On March 25, local police officers came to one of Duncan's services and informed him about local and state orders prohibiting gatherings of more than 10 people, the Los Angeles Times reported.

According to the Times, the police also posted a notice from the local health department, telling Bethel Open Bible Church — Duncan's congregation's landlord — that it was in violation of the local emergency order, which is a misdemeanor.

Several police officers arrived Palm Sunday morning to make sure Duncan's church did not meet. By that time, Bethel Open Bible Church had changed the locks on the doors, police told the Times.

Duncan did not immediately return Insider's request for comment.

Cross Culture Christian Center has retained a lawyer from the conservative National Center for Law & Policy, according to the Los Angeles Times. The attorney, Dean R. Broyles, sent a six-page cease-and-desist letter to the City of Lodi, saying officers had "disrupted a peaceful and lawful worship service." He also said he plans to file a federal lawsuit against the state and county. 

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